New Edison Research videos show a “barrage of new” in connected cars

Seeking insight to how new-car owners are coping with modern infotainment systems built into digital dashboards, Edison Research has produced video interviews with recent buyers. (Watch the videos here.) Unlike the eye-opening videos of prospective buyers trying to turn on the radio for the first time, shown at the Radio Show in Orlando, the subjects of Edison’s videos have had some number of months to learn and adapt to expanded listening choices in the car.

We spoke to Larry Rosin, President of Edison Research, to ask about key takeaways.

RAIN: You spoke with new-car owners who have been dealing with sophisticated dashboards for several months. What did you learn?

LR: The average car on the road is 11 or 12 years old; most of these people had traded in 10- or 11-year-old cars. So they’re excited by the prospect of a new car, and by the systems that are baked into these cars. They’ve gone from the alpha to the omega of the [dashboard] experience. They get hit with what I call a “barrage of new.” Lots of new things. In every one of these cases, on top of these dash systems — connection with their phones, or embedded 4G — they get a free trial subscription to SiriusXM. Lots of new things are coming through to them. We see in the videos very significant changes in behavior.

For broadcast radio, those guys are fighting the “barrage of new.’” And I don’t think we think enough in the broadcast radio industry about “new.” We seldom launch new shows, we seldom launch new formats, we seldom come out with new initiatives. In many ways we’ve come to represent the opposite of New. I think that’s a dangerous prospect.

RAIN: To what extent do you think the Barrage of New will stick with new-car buyers? For example, how long had these people owned their new cars, and were they still in the trial satellite subscriptions?

LR: In some cases the trials had lapsed, and some of them had not renewed. We asked people to project into the future, and of course that’s hard for people to do. But I think these people are forever changed in their behaviors. They all came from cars where AM/FM was the only [listening] option, except for CDs — and in one case, cassettes. [Now they’re in a world where] their phone, their iPod, their own music was readily available in the car, and streamed music was easy to access also. They’re taking advantage of that. In the videos they seem excited about what they can do.

If you watch the videos, [the subjects] still do turn to radio. Every respondent said they do turn to radio for unique, compelling content they cannot get from streaming audio or satellite radio. News reports, traffic reports, weather, personalities, sports, public radio.

RAIN: Do you think that encourages radio as an industry to double down on its legacy values of news, traffic, and weather — as opposed to developing new content?

LR: No. Not at all. Of course we should stress things like news, traffic, weather, and personalities. But I think it compels radio to say “What other content beyond all that can be unique and compelling in a much more competitive environment?”

RAIN: One of your subjects made a remark that must feel like hitting a wall for radio professionals who see these videos. The subject said, “I don’t listen to radio anymore because I don’t have to.”

LR: Yes, but I wonder whether that is over-interpreted. Clearly it came down hard, but I’m not sure that woman meant it with nasty connotations. She had a ten-year-old car, where radio was the only option. She was merely pointing out that she went from a world of one option to a world of many options.

RAIN: Even though the new dashboards are difficult for your subjects to learn and master, it appeared there was no desire for a return to simpler controls.

LR: There was definitely an adjustment period. Nobody said they wanted to go back.

RAIN: Your videos, and others, seem to illustrate that voice control really doesn’t work yet. Perhaps it will be an important factor in safe connected cars, but presently isn’t effective. Do you agree?

LR: I have no doubt it’s gotten better, but the people in these videos who have it, are really struggling with it. I can also say this: Not having had the benefit of time that these people have (and they’re still struggling with it), I’ve been in cars where I’ve tried to synch my phone to the car, and I simply could not do it. I took out the manual and gave it a serious effort. I simply could not do it. As of today [phone pairing] is just terrible.

RAIN: Have you gotten a sense from the radio people what their emotional reaction is to these videos? Is there denial?

LR: In all honesty, I think the denial period is rapidly coming to an end. It’s not that long ago, when there was a Code of Omerta in the radio industry, where if you point out a problem, you are the problem. If you look at the tone of the Radio Show in Orlando, and the tone of DASH in Detroit, and the general tone, the era in which denial is the only acceptable approach is over, or ending quickly. An attitude is emerging in which it’s a competitive world and we have to compete smart and compete strong. A healthier attitude is emerging.

Brad Hill

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